New York Jets QB Zach Wilson cannot be gunshy against the Detroit Lions
As we broke down yesterday, the Detroit Lions’ defense is a tougher matchup for New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson than it might appear at first glance. While Detroit is a low-ranked defense overall, its schematic tendencies are ideal for exploiting Wilson’s weaknesses.
The Lions utilize a lot of man coverage, rely heavily on Cover 1, and love to call aggressive blitzes with 6+ rushers – three things that have caused a lot of trouble for Wilson. In many ways, the Lions’ defensive scheme reminds you of the New England Patriots, Wilson’s greatest nemesis.
How can Wilson succeed against this Detroit defense?
It’s simple: aggressiveness, confidence, and a nothing-to-lose attitude.
Zach Wilson cannot play safe against this team. There are some matchups where operating as a “game manager” would be the ideal mentality for Wilson, but this is not one of them.
The BYU version of Zach Wilson needs to show up on Sunday: The confident, fearless kid who was dropping tight-window dimes all over the field in Provo and looking cool while doing it.
Detroit’s defense is going to dare Wilson to challenge them. The Lions will frequently play one high safety with man coverage on the outside, telling Zach, “Go ahead and try to beat us, because we don’t think you can.”
This is what most teams have done to Wilson this year. Even teams that are not typically a heavy-man coverage defense or heavy-single high defense have shifted to playing that way when facing Wilson. And it has worked nearly every time. Why? Because Wilson has been too afraid to take chances; playing right into their hands.
That can’t happen anymore.
The worst-case scenario has already transpired for Wilson. His back is against the wall. His team’s back is against the wall. Now is the time to let loose – especially against a defense that will invite him to.
Not only will the Lions invite Wilson to be aggressive, but they have given opposing quarterbacks no reason to fear being aggressive against them.
The Lions’ cornerback unit is arguably the worst in the NFL, ranking 32nd with 1.47 yards allowed per coverage snap. Zach has to challenge these corners with confidence – specifically on deep throws.
Detroit’s defense has allowed 25 completions on deep passes (20+ air yards), tied for the third-most in the NFL. Additionally, Detroit is fourth-worst in passer rating allowed (116.3) and EPA per attempt allowed (0.61) on deep pass attempts.
Don’t be afraid of these guys. Go after them. Make them fear you.
Of course, deep shots can only make up a small portion of Wilson’s pass attempts. You can’t throw deep on every play or even close to it. Wilson needs another weapon that can be his bread and butter on a down-to-down basis – something that can be used consistently, but still evokes the aggressive confidence that is necessary to challenge Detroit’s cornerbacks and punish the Lions’ “dare him to beat us” scheme.
The solution: Outside-the-numbers throws.
When not taking deep shots, Wilson should aim to carve up the Lions’ Cover 1 defense by throwing intermediate passes to the outside. Against outside-the-numbers passes that traveled 10-to-19 yards downfield, Detroit is ranked second-worst in passer rating allowed (130.7) and fifth-worst in EPA per attempt allowed (0.62).
Wilson must eagerly seek intermediate routes against one-on-one coverage on the outside. If he has Garrett Wilson or Elijah Moore in one-on-one coverage on the outside with something like an out route, curl route, or comeback route, he needs to trust his guy to win and sling the rock toward the sideline with confidence.
Some may read the suggestions I have laid out in this article and quiver at the idea of Wilson playing an aggressive brand of football, fearing it will lead to disastrous turnovers. They might argue that the Jets should instead ask him to play the safer and more efficient quick-passing role he did against the Bills in Week 9.
Here’s a key reason why that probably won’t work this time around: Stopping quick passes is one of the Lions’ greatest strengths defensively.
The Lions have allowed the third-lowest passer rating (85.5) and fifth-fewest EPA per attempt (0.00) on passes that were released in under 2.5 seconds. They have been even more dominant in this area recently, ranking first in both categories over their 5-1 run since Week 9 (allowing a 64.3 passer rating and -0.30 EPA per attempt).
A safe, quick-passing attack is not the correct way to attack this defense. Detroit is a young and speedy defense that does a good job of rallying to the ball and tackling underneath.
The best way to beat Detroit is by relying on longer-developing concepts, placing the onus on Detroit’s league-worst cornerbacks to hold up in downfield coverage.
On passes that were released more than 2.5 seconds after the snap, the Lions have allowed the highest passer rating (103.0) and second-most EPA per attempt (0.12).
Yes, the Jets’ offensive line has struggled recently, but New York has to trust its offensive line to hold up against a Detroit defensive line that is not overly intimidating.
The Lions are 17th in pressure rate (22.1%) and 25th in sack rate (5.4%). Their interior pass rush is particularly poor, as Detroit’s defensive tackle unit ranks 27th with a 5.8% pressure rate. Interior pressure is the greatest deterrent to deep passes, as it eliminates room for the QB to step up, so the Jets’ interior offensive line should be able to win its matchup and give Wilson the room he needs to launch bombs.
Even if the Jets do struggle a little bit in pass protection, Wilson needs to take a page out of Mike White’s book and be willing to take hits in the pocket if that’s what needs to be done to get off a good throw.
Stay poised and hang tight in the pocket. Be confident. Be aggressive. Challenge the Lions deep.
That is how Wilson will succeed in this one.
Game managing is not going to cut it this time – not against this defense and not against this high-octane Lions offense that may require the Jets offense to keep up in a shootout.
It’s time for Zach Wilson to air it out.
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